Solving New England’s Transportation Puzzle
What is the largest and fastest-growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions? Not surprisingly, it’s our cars, trucks, and buses. But that’s not the only problem with the way we get around. Tailpipe pollution causes asthma and other health problems, new roads increase water pollution, and the burdens of inadequate public transit are borne disproportionately by lower-income people. To make matters worse, the system is bankrupt, with states struggling to maintain public transit infrastructure, highways, and bridges in the face of scant funding and skyrocketing costs.
Big problems, to be sure. But here’s the good news: these problems, though far-reaching, have solutions. It will take investment, political will, and tenacity, but we can effect a paradigm shift in the way New England states plan and invest in our transportation system. CLF is already working with states on policy reform to inject smarter, climate-friendly, socially just criteria into project selection. New policies and investments should reduce dependence on cars and make roadways safer for bikes and pedestrians. And public participation in decision making will ensure that the people who depend most on public transit have a place at the table.
Over the last year, many of these issues came to the fore in Massachusetts, where every driver on its highways and rider on its rails and buses has felt the effects of the state’s chronic drought of transportation funding. After a year-long effort by CLF and our partners, last summer the legislature passed the historic Transportation Finance Act of 2013, which raises an average of $600 million per year over the next five years for the state’s transportation system. This infusion of funds will help extend the MBTA’s Green Line, begin the expansion of the South Coast rail line, and pay for highway and bridge repairs, among other projects.
CLF and other transportation advocates applauded the package as a good first step, but the monies still fall far short of filling the state’s actual funding gap, estimated at more than $1 billion annually. That makes the new law just the beginning of the conversation, one that CLF and our allies are already making sure stays at the top of legislative agendas by issuing a bi-annual progress report chronicling the hits and misses of the law’s implementation.
CLF’s work in Massachusetts is just one piece of the larger transportation puzzle in New England. We are playing a leading role in broad-based coalitions; engaging national, regional, and local experts; promoting creative solutions; and working toward a cleaner, more equitable, and just transportation system.